Clam Jam: Tradition or Town Trouble?

Fairfield, CT

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Students at Clam Jam 2011

In 2010, there were 26 arrests at Clam Jam. Last year, 36 people got arrested.

Update: Clam Jam tamed in 2012 with a fraction of citations.

This year, up to 1,500 Fairfield students, alumni and friends are expected to gather on the crowded beach near Lantern Point next weekend for the annual end-of-school ritual and party.

Each year restrictions seem to become stronger and the orange fences extend longer, but students still plan to attend the spring party despite the risks of winding up an arrest and criminal record.

“I will definitely go to Clam Jam regardless. It’s a Fairfield tradition, but I will just be more cautious,” said Fairfield junior Meghan Murphy.  Murphy is one of many students who is not concerned about the number of arrests.

“Clam jam is fun because it’s a Fairfield tradition, but it’s not worth a criminal record,” said Jen Yoo ’13.

Police say they hope for no problems

Lantern Point is a private beach, which has a court order that forbids more than 250 people gathering on the deck.  Students who do not live on the Point but gather on the deck are trespassing on private property, according to the Fairfield Police Department.

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Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy courtesy of Fairfield Police Department.

“This is a tradition for seniors.  There is no problem if they just keep it for the seniors at the beach,” said Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Chris Lyddy.  Lyddy explained how the problems occur when visitors and underclassmen attend Clam Jam.

“I would hope that Fairfield Police would warn us if we are doing something illegal.  We’re not looking to cause trouble,” said Fairfield junior Ling Chen.

Lyddy confirmed that students can be on the beach, but that Lantern Point is private property, which makes nonresidents trespassing.  Arrests peaked between 2005 and 2007, he said, and in recent years, students have generally been well behaved. But he said it is the job of Fairfield Police to enforce the court order.

While Lyddy hopes there will be no arrests, he said that the actions of some students are what lead to these arrests.  These arrests mostly involved disorderly conduct, public indecency, and public urination.

Administrators holding their breath

Fairfield University was ranked #1 in the country for the worst town-gown relations in 2003. It has worked hard to improve this relationship, but it is still ranked by The Princeton Review as having the seventh worse relations with the local town of any school in the country.

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Rama Sudhakar courtesy of http://www.fairfield.edu

“This number still doesn’t accurately portray the relationship.  We have seen a significant improvement and The Princeton Review doesn’t accurately represent this,” said Rama Sudhakar, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Fairfield University.  She said there were several community outreach programs that bring the university and the town together.

A major part of the relationship is the addition of Fairfield University’s downtown bookstore.  Martha Milcarek, Assistant Vice President for Brand Management and Public Relations said this sends a positive message to the town.

“People were excited and grateful that Fairfield is willing to make that commitment downtown,” said Milcarek.  The bookstore hosts events that continue to unite the town with the school.

The actions seem to have paid dividends.

Fairfield University Bookstore on Post Rd.

“I think over the past five years there has been an improved relationship between students and year round residents, ” said Paige Herman, President of the Fairfield Beach Residents Association and a long-time sharp critic of the university.  She believes that this improvement can be attributed to a more “mature and civil student population.”

Colorful history

In the 1970s, 1,200 students lived at the beach.  This number was cut to 400 students in recent years and has lowered to 300 in the past two years.

Events like Mock Wedding, 200 Nights, and Keg Races once led to hospitalizations and arrests, but have tamed.  At 2003’s Mock Wedding, one male student jumped off a two-story deck and was hospitalized for his injuries.

Students gathering on the roof of a house on Lantern Point 2011

Angry residents responded to these events with a court order in 2001.  This injunction was a temporary action to tame Clam Jam.  It prohibited more than 250 gathering between the metal gates of Lantern Point and prevented the gatherings, such as the 5,000 students and 270 kegs at the peak of Clam Jam.

The court order was made permanent in 2006 and Fairfield University has tried alternative school-sponsored events like Spam Jam. This was unsuccessful though, as students still find ways to make Clam Jam happen.

Herman said she still believes that “Clam Jam belongs on campus.”  She said that a few disrespectful students cause the problems with the year round residents’ rights to enjoy their home in peace [and] quiet.”

Other residents were positive.

“There is always politics with colleges and the towns, but Fairfield has a great relationship,” said Fairfield resident Nancy Roche.  “I have been living in Fairfield for 40 years and the students brighten the town!”  Roche did agree that Clam Jam remains the one major source of tension among beach residents.

Final End of the Year Celebration for Students

“Clam jam is a great tradition and a great thing to look forward to,” said Fairfield student Jimmy DiCecco. “It’s a fun break before finals for the students. We organize it ourselves so no one can really get rid of it.”

View from Lantern Point

“As long as we don’t damage or interfere with their property, then there should not be a problem,” said junior Shannon Cooney.

“Traditions like Clam Jam are important to bring people together,” said Fairfield junior Jackie Nucero. “Although it has caused problems among beach residents, there are a lot of great things about Clam Jam because of the memories and traditions it forms.”

“You can’t stop a party!” said Fairfield student John Noto.

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